Steve and Gerry announce they are getting divorced in June 2004.
Gerry tells her children she’s gay towards the end of November 2004.
Gerry tells her children that she is transgender at the beginning of June 2012.
Gerry became Jerry.
I’m one of Jerry’s children.
Despite what some conservatives, some researchers and even some children of LGBTQ parents will say.
I am okay.
I remember the first time I heard about someone having a transgender parent.
I was watching the E! reality show, Dr. 90210, which told the stories of different plastic surgery patients in the Los Angeles area. One particular episode that aired in 2008 would end up serving as a major foreshadowing moment in my life.
I know you’re probably thinking, how in the world did a reality show foreshadow my actual life?
The episode featured a transgender male finishing up the rest of his gender reassignment surgeries. Marco, the patient, had lived much of his life as a woman, including marrying a man and having four children with him. When the children were in their teens and 20s, Marco came out as transgender. Two of the children appeared on the program during the interview segments and they explained that though Marco’s transition was a process for the entire family, they still love their parent the same.
I am one of four children, one older sister and two younger. Our parents stayed together for a long time, divorcing because of my mother’s sexuality.
Little did we know, this was not the full extent of who my mother was. Eight years later we found out the truth.
We had just come home from our yearly beach trip to Ocean City, New Jersey a few days prior. I was living with my dad at the time, it was late morning and I got a call asking if I could come to mom’s house for something important.
I remember being confused as to what was going on. I arrived at the house to my two younger sisters, my mom, my stepmom and a stranger sitting in mom’s living room.
The stranger? A therapist.
The something important? My mom’s second coming out.
The therapist was there to act as a buffer and assist in any questions, but emotions were heightened and she did not serve as much help.
My siblings and I were initially upset. I especially took on a selfish role in a time when our mom needed us most. To this day, Jerry does not blame us for feeling this way. We were only kids after all.
This day seems so long ago now. Since then, my mother has changed on the outside significantly. But on the inside, my mom is still my mom. The happiest version yet.
We are okay.
There are people out there who don’t believe that my siblings or myself are okay because of our mom’s transition. There are also many people who do not know what to make of the situation because of the lack of research.
It’s fair to say that anyone in this life situation will be affected differently. Denise Shick is one of those people. Shick is an author who also has a transgender parent. Her writing is dedicated to how having a transgender parent can negatively affect a child. She herself thinks she would have been better off otherwise.
“I lost my dad that day, when he told me he wanted to become a woman,” Shick reveals in a piece of writing. From the time she found out about her dad’s secret at the age of nine, she says it was like walking on pins and needles at home.
These beliefs stuck with her so much so, that along with another child from an LGBT family, they submitted amicus briefs are to the Supreme Court to protect children. “I know I speak for others who have undergone similarly tragic childhoods.”
The briefs were filed in March 2015 as a part of a nationwide debate on whether same-sex marriage should be legal or not.
Interestingly enough, the briefs were filed just months before same-sex marriage indeed became legal nationwide.
Shick and the filing counterpart, Dawn Stefanowicz, believe that a child should grow up with a male father and female mother. Anything else can be “toxic.” Shick even goes so far as to claim that her father transitioned to a woman because of past life events, never allowing the idea that transgenderism is true.
Though Shick and I come from similar family make ups, the specific family details she speaks of are not similar to mine. My mom too went through significant events as a child up until deciding to live his true life. Yet, my siblings and I know this is who he was meant to be.
The Public Sphere
The notion of anyone other than a male father and female mother being parents can be considered taboo to some. The social movements within the U.S. in the past twenty years have caused a shift, though. There are more and more non-traditional families sprouting across the United States, or at least their public presence is known.
According to the U.S. census in 2000, one-third of lesbian couples and one-fifth of gay couples were raising children and there is an increased visibility of trans people with families. Research into what we call “non-traditional” families is still emerging, which means the effects of being raised in families without the traditional mom and dad figure is still somewhat unknown.
Even though factual evidence is lacking, there are plenty of stories and personal accounts.
Another story out there is Sharon Shattuck’s.
Like my siblings and I, Shattuck acknowledges feeling upset and hurt when she found out about her father.
“My sister and I were just so mad. We were just like, ‘I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to have anything to do with you,’ and it was really hurtful. When you’re a kid, you’re selfish, and you don’t think-you’re just doing things out of spite,” says Shattuck
These initial feelings faded, as in my own story.
Shattuck notes that when growing up, she felt very alone. “I felt like no one else’s family was like mine, so I just sequestered that part of my life and didn’t talk about it with my friends or acquaintances.”
Shattuck came out with a documentary last year titled, From This Day Forward that tells the story of her father’s transition to a woman and everything involved with it. The overall purpose being to teach others about such non-traditional upbringings and for children to not feel so alone.
My siblings and I can resonate with such loneliness. Even before coming out as transgender, I can remember feeling ostracized for having a gay mother.
I remember one day in grade school my mom came to pick up my two younger sisters and I. We attended a Catholic grade school within walking distance from our house so from time to time our mom would come and walk us home. At this point in time my mom had a Mohawk that stood a little less than a foot high.
You know the classic, mid 2000s Mohawk? My mom was pretty much the “poster child” for it.
In addition to the, Mohawk my mom wore a faded grey printed tee, men’s jeans and Birkenstocks. The typical uniform of my mom, the opposite uniform of the parents from my school. I’ll never forget watching as students, not even parents, pointed and laughed as we walked away with our mom.
As we have grown older, this has happened less and less. Or maybe, we have just noticed less. Either way, we are no longer afraid of ridicule being thrown our way and the loneliness has subsided. Our sense of family is too strong.
Though the sense of loneliness has faded from my siblings, me and Shattuck, it does not mean children out there are not going through that feeling plus more presently.
Aside from feeling alone, Shattuck says, “I also wish that there was some sort of template for us during dad’s transition. I think that it is as confusing for my dad as it was for the rest of the family.”
Today, there is a template of sorts. An online group called, COLAGE, is also working to combat the loneliness children may feel while also providing an open forum and safe place for children.
The overall mission of COLAGE is to bring together the children of LGBTQ parents in a safe manner to facilitate free flowing conversation, with the overall goal being to empower the children to be skilled, self-confident and leaders within today’s world.
Starting in 1988, the group was initiated for knowledge. The founding members, all of whom have parents on the LGBTQ spectrum, recognized that the larger world needed to be faced with positive conversations and stories connected to LGBTQ families. Not only fulfilling the template Shattuck sought as a child, but serving as a community tool as well.
After Childhood “Outing”
Parents are not coming out as trans only during their children’s young years, they’re coming out during all stages of life.
Take Heather Griffiths, her dad came out as transgender when she was in her late 20s. Heather and family don’t refer to her dad, now known as Kimberly, as dad outwardly anymore. This is unlike my and Sharon’s story.
One fact that still stays the same among our three stories is that we are all okay.
Griffiths spoke about her experience with Buzzfeed in their article People Share Their Favorite Things About Having Two Moms. She said that since Kimberly came out a little over a year ago, things in their family have changed for the better. Her relationship with her biological mom, Kimberly and Kimberly’s wife are equally special, something she would not change otherwise.
When I asked Griffiths why she decided to do the article she said, “So I really never spoke publicly about it, but I wrote about it. Now that Kimberly is out about herself to the public, I speak publicly to friends and strangers about my experience. I believe ignorance comes partly from lack of knowledge, so I’m happy to educate anyone about things they’ve never experienced or just don’t understand.”
Questions, Comments, No Concerns
Along with the lack of research on such “non-traditional” families, people have questions on how to act around such families. Personally, I have gotten many questions about my mom surrounding the transition. People tend to ask a lot of questions when they find out about it.
“Are you still allowed to call your mom, mom?”
“Yes I am.”
Though this is not the case for everyone, my mom allows my siblings and me do to so. Of course, along with transitioning comes a name change. Luckily for me, my mom went from Gerry to Jerry. The change of one letter was an easier transition for my family as compared to others.
“Is it like having an entirely new parent?”
In an essay prompt for one of her college applications, my youngest sister Betsy describes it perfectly, “My exposure to my mother’s transition has made me realize—if anything—that no matter what happens to a person on the outside, they remain the same in essence. I came to understand that he had truly been a man pretending to be a woman for his entire life, up until he came out to my sisters and me.”
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask even more questions. Everyone’s experience is different but at the end of the day, the children can get through it. Though it does not discount Denise’s experience because not every single situation will turn out great.
But take it from my sisters and I.
Take it from Sharon.
Take it from Heather.
We are okay.
Author: Maddie Huggins
Author Bio: Maddie is a young, creative semi-professional. She likes making people happy and helping them out, while also trying to maintain her own life. Getting out and exploring her city and the world around her is important, and she likes to document it all along the way.
Link to social media or website: http://itsdramaddie.wordpress.com